Archive | November, 2010

Autumn Wedding Inspiration

24 Nov

My friend Liz is getting married in TWO!DAYS!!!  I’m over-the-moon excited for her and her awesome fiance.  They’re one of my favorite couples – truly in love and ready to face the world together – and I am honored to be their wedding coordinator/planner.   While this isn’t something I think I’ll be giving up working full-time to do, the experience of helping her to put the wedding together over the last two months has been awesome, and I will definitely be looking for some more brides to help in the future!

Liz’ wedding theme is seasonal – Friday will be full of autumn colors, pumpkins, and fall leaves!  She’s picking up some fresh flowers tonight and we’re making her bouquets – like my friend Lynn, Liz has chosen to make her budget wedding very personal and I have no doubt that it will be GORGEOUS!

Below the inspiration board I created for her.  You’ll see several elements that will be in her wedding, including her favors (Mexican Wedding Cookies, homemade by the bride and her future Mother-in-Law!) and others that have inspired her wedding (like the two cake examples).  I’ll be sure to post some photos after the big day!

Liz' Autumn Wedding Inspiration Board

Photo Sources:

Harbor View: Melissa McClure Photography, Autumn Aisle: Wedding Planning 101,Tom Ham’s Lighthouse: Gusto, Capeview Farms, Fall Leaves and Pumpkin Cake: Wedding Cake Pictures, Autumn Fruit: Bargain Bridezilla, Wedding By Color, Fall Leaves Invitation: Joyful Heart Design, Orange Ribbon Cake: 3 Tiers, Leaf Ribbon: EFavorMart, Mexican Wedding Cookies: 3BP, Bouquet Ribbon and Jewels: Botanic Floral Designs, I Do Pumpkins: Ruffled Blog, Bride with Autumn Bouquet: Wedding Planning 101, Purple and Orange Table (sorry, I’ve misplaced this link…  If it’s yours please let me know!), Gerbera Daisy Bouquet: Charlotte Geary Photography, Beau-Coup, Floating Gerbera Daisy: Lisa Dawn Photography, White and Berry Bouquet: Flowers By Design.

Butternut Squash Lasagna

19 Nov

So I’m just going to put this out there: this is NOT my own original recipe!  It came to me by way of my good friend Jennie at Spontaneous Truth.  She adapted it from You’ve Got Supper.  I adapted it from her!

When I saw this recipe on her blog, I knew I had to make it.  I adore butternut squash, but it’s really rare that I can spend hours and hours making ravioli.  What a great idea to make a lasagna instead!

You’ll see a few differences in my recipe right away – for starters, I only made a half recipe (but seriously it was still 6 whole servings!!!).  Oh yeah – and I made mine in a square baking dish instead of a skillet (if you read the comments on Jennie’s site you’ll see my skillet is old and needs cleaning!).  And of course there’s my inadvertent mistake – I actually read the recipe over before starting but somehow had in my head that I needed to roast and puree the squash.  When I started putting the lasagna together I realized I was supposed to slice it!  Lastly, I adore nutmeg + butternut squash together.  Like, LOVE it.  So I had to add some!

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Adapted from Spontaneous Truth

  • 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup parmeggiano-reggiano cheese
  • 1 tbsp dry parsley (mostly because my plant outside has very few leaves left – I’d use 2 tbsp fresh parsley)
  • 1 tbsp fresh sage, cut fine (um, yes this is double the original recipe.  I love sage + butternut squash too!)
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 5 cooked lasagna noodles
  • 1 medium-small (1 1/2 – 2 lb) butternut squash, halved, roasted, and pureed

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a small skillet, cook onions in olive oil over medium heat until translucent.  Add garlic and cook until softened.  Add sausage and cook until lightly browned (yes these are slightly different instructions than Jennie’s, if you’re checking!).  Remove from heat.

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add flour and cook for 1 minute.  Whisk in milk and cook for 10 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from heat.  Add cheese, nutmeg, sage, parsley, and pepper.

Assemble the lasagna: start with the sauce and build like so: sauce, noodles, squash puree, sausage, sauce, noodles, squash puree, sausage, noodles, and end with sauce.  Bake for 45 minutes or until the top of the lasagna is beautifully golden brown.  Remove it from the oven.

Now here’s the hard part: leave the lasagna alone for about 15 minutes.  I don’t blame you if you can’t.  This is my least favorite part of cooking something like a lasagna.  But I have to say that you will thank me.  If you cut right into it the whole thing will sort of slide apart.  If you let it cool for 15 minutes it will set up nicely and you can cut pieces.  You also won’t burn the roof of your mouth.  Not that I know anything about that first hand ;).

This serves 4-6.  It’s not butternut squash ravioli – it’s a different experience altogether – but it’s a beautiful sweet and salty mixture and it definitely satiates my squash craving!

SUPER Quick Post

15 Nov

I am SO busy right now I don’t have time for a proper post, but I had to write a quick update since it’s been a while…  Here goes!

    • I’ve got a job interview tomorrow!  EEE!
    • A few posts ago I alluded to a pumpkin cheesecake…  I made it this weekend.  It’s not quite right and I need to try again later this week (but it wasn’t really the pumpkin or the cheesecake that was an issue but the spices I dumped in).  It will be legend…  wait for it…  ary!
    • I had a grilled cheese party with friends this weekend.  I am now enamored with gruyere + nutmeg + green apple + carmelized onion, AKA “fondue grilled cheese”.
    • At the party, I shared a pickled onion I made the week before.  It was so good that I got requests for the recipe.  Only I didn’t use a recipe.  And I didn’t write down what I did.  I made my first attempt to recreate it yesterday – too much vinegar, not enough sugar.  But I’ll keep working on it and once I get that perfected it’ll be posted.  Seriously, I don’t like raw onions or most pickles.  These are the best pickled onions I’ve ever had!
    • Our garden rocks.  Seriously.  And we’ve got tons of tiny lettuce plants.  Yay for re-seeding! 😉
    • I’m working with my neighbor on a Holiday decorating and design service!  So excited for the opportunity!  Check us out: http://ChristmasElves.wordpress.com!  Right now we’re working as private individuals – we don’t even know if we’ll make a single cent this year – but we both LOVE the holidays!!
    • And of course I’m coordinating a wedding for L & J in less than 2 weeks!  EEE!!!

    That’s my life in a nutshell…  And I’m off!

    Buttery Plain Muffins

    8 Nov

    Several weeks ago I had this idea for a fig-and-goat-cheese-filled muffin.  While the filling didn’t work as I had hoped (it tasted fantastic but sort of split the muffin in half oddly), the plain muffin itself, created from my plain shortcake/biscuit recipe, was worth making again.  And sharing.

    So on Thursday, one of the hottest days of this year, I decided I needed to bake another batch.  Because baking on a 95 degree day in a house without air conditioning or even ceiling fans makes perfect sense, of course.

    This is an incredibly easy, awesomely versatile muffin batter.  You could easily add a little sugar and some lemon zest, or a little brown sugar and apples, or even top this with strusel.  As is, this is actually a savory muffin batter, so you could easily serve the muffins on the side of a dinner (Thanksgiving anyone?) or for breakfast, or with a sweet spread for dessert.  As an added bonus, I included the recipe for the fig and goat cheese filling at the bottom.  I wouldn’t include this inside the muffins, since that didn’t work very well, but I’d most definitely serve it with them.  Or in a big bowl by itself.

    These muffins are lighter than air, and oh-so buttery tasting.

    Elisa’s Buttery Plain Muffins

    • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (for the batch pictured I used 1 1/2 cups of white and 1 cup of wheat, but truthfully I think I prefer all-white, since the wheat flour made them a little dense, as wheat flour often does)
    • 1 tbsp baking powder
    • 1 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp sugar
    • 1/2 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch squares  melted ***
    • 1 1/2 cups milk
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten

    Stir together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar.  Add butter and use a pastry cutter or your fingers to mix the ingredients together and create a ragged texture, like you would if you were making biscuits or pie crust.  The idea is to cover all the fat molecules with flour, but you want to work quickly.  Don’t let the butter melt!  Add the butter ***,  milk and egg and stir to combine.  Don’t worry if there are a few lumps; muffins should only be stirred just enough to incorporate the ingredients.  If you make these and want to add any ingredients to the batter, add any spices or other dry ingredients before mixing in the butter and any wet or chunky ingredients with the milk.

    Spoon 1/4 cup each of the batter into 12 prepared muffin cups (you can either use buttered muffin tins or paper cupcake liners).  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Remove from pan to cool completely on a rack.

     

    Pretty fresh muffins!

     

    Fig and Goat Cheese Spread

    • 1/2 lb onion, chopped
    • 1 clove garlic, chopped
    • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 4 oz goat cheese
    • 4 oz fresh figs (if you don’t have fresh figs I’d suggest using 2 oz dry ones, since they’re lighter than fresh ones and very sweet)

    In a small pan, combine onion, garlic, thyme (remove the stem please!), butter, and salt.  Cook on low until onion is soft and begins to carmelize (NOT get dry and brown!!!).  Remove pan from heat and cool for 5-10 minutes.  In a food processor, combine goat cheese and figs (you probably only need to cut off the stem, as fig skins are typically edible) with the onion mixture and process until smooth.  This is incredibly rich, but will freeze beautifully!  Enjoy!

    OK, I know this didn't come out very well, but you can see the pretty lavender color!

     

    *** Edited 06/05/11 – For some reason yesterday I decided to be lazy and just melt the butter and throw it in.  It was SO good.  Fluffier than the original (which was already pretty fluffy).  So I’ve amended the recipe to reflect melted butter (but you can really do it either way). 🙂

    Garden Update

    6 Nov

    I promised it wouldn’t be another 3 months before my next garden update, didn’t I? 😉

    I wanted to share the exciting news about my new babies!

    First, baby pumpkin:

    I hand-pollenated this sucker last week and I'm SO pleased to see it growing!

    And then there’s my baby watermelons.  Assuming they continue to grow as they should, we’ll have watermelons in December or January!

    I just realized I should have put a quarter, or a ruler, or something in the photo so you could have some perspective. This is about 4 1/2 inches long right now.

    And this one's smaller - just under 3 inches long right now!

    And then there’s my back yard.  This is my tomato bed.  As you can see, it’s very different than it was.  In the back you’ll see the Sungold plant – it’s my original plant that I’ve had since the springtime, but I cut it way back.  I harvested my first two fruit off it this week, and I’m hoping that the recent spat of hot, hot, hot weather helps promote some more fruit set!  You’ll see a Paul Robson tomato plant, too, that I harvested three fruit from last week.  The eggplant is still next to the house, too.

    Here are my brussels sprouts and a pot of lettuce – I hope that the hot weather hasn’t messed these cold-weather veggies up!

    And here’s our artichoke plant, growing right back up around this year’s first plant (that obviously is dry and dead).

    Yes, that’s a lot of grass and weeds.  They kind of took over with all the rain we had in October.  Oh well, we did our best!  We’ve also got arugula, broccoli, and another couple of tomatoes, beets, and the leftover eggplants and peppers (still producing, as is the okra).  This year’s garden has given us so very much gorgeous produce; it’s totally worth the work and expense! 🙂

    Iron Foodie Contest!

    5 Nov

    I’m throwing my hat in the ring to participate in the Marx Foods Iron Foodie contest!

    It looks like fun, and I’m up for a challenge!

    I have to answer a few questions, first…

    1. Why do you want to compete in this challenge? I’ve been a fan of Iron Chef ever since I first saw it.  The idea of working with unknown ingredients to make something creative and beautiful appeals to me.  Whenever I watch a cooking show – Iron Chef, Top Chef, Chopped, etc. – where the contestants work with mystery ingredients, I use the magic of my DVR to stop the show just as they’ve announced the theme, and work out precisely how I would use the ingredients.  Sometimes I’ll write down my “creation” to actually cook later!
    2. Limitations of time/space notwithstanding, whose kitchen would you like to spend the day in & why? Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria, James Beard, Marie-Antoine Careme, or The Swedish Chef? When I was very young, my grandmother watched me during the day while my mother worked.  We’d watch endless hours of PBS shows, including my grandma’s favorite, Julia Child.  She was incredibly entertaining, the kind of woman you imagined you could invite to your house for dinner, and her recipes make you want to try them.  Okay, maybe not all of them (aspic anyone?), but I enjoy reading Julia’s recipes, and about her life.  Plus, she makes me think of my grandma.  My grandmother – an amazing cook in her own right – enjoyed watching Julia put together and talk about recipes, and she’d write down the ones she really liked to try out at family gatherings.  My grandmother passed away 17 years ago, but I have tons of foodie memories of her – watching food shows (before the advent of Food Network, of course!), cooking, and of course, eating.
    3. What morsel are you most likely to swipe from family & friends’ plates when they aren’t looking? Parmesan cheese.  From the time I could first work the hand-crank grater, it was my job to grate the cheese off the block of Parmeggiano Reggiano, a job I loved because I got all the little chunks that didn’t quite grate but were too small to go back into the grater.  I still swipe pinches of it off my husband’s plate!
    4. Sum your childhood up in one meal. Homemade bolognese sauce.  My mom and grandma each developed their own recipe, redolent with basil and garlic, simmered all day over a low flame, and finished with just a hint of cream.  They’d make it in 5-gallon pots, serving it for a day or two over spaghetti, ravioli, or polenta; cooked into lasagna; or just in a bowl with bread for dipping.  Then whatever was left over would be frozen in containers to be eaten throughout the next month or two.  I can’t eat Italian food “out” – the bolognese doesn’t taste the same!
    5. The one mainstream food you can’t stand? There are actually a few, but I have to go with cilantro.  I know several people that feel the same way as I do – it’s soapy-tasting and makes me gag – and it’s something to do with genetics or enzymes or something…  But it’s used in so many cuisines of South America and Asia, and is so prevalent in American cuisine right now that I sort of wish I liked it!  My runner up?  American cheese.  Ew.  Just…  Ew.

     

    So…  That’s it!  We’ll see if I make it! 😉

     

    Iron Foodie 2010 | Here's Why that will be me:
    MarxFoods.com -- Fine Bulk Foods The Foodie BlogRoll

    Halloween Party!

    4 Nov

    A few weeks back, we were at my parents’ house.  It was a party they were having for the annual Air Show at our local Marine Corps Base – their backyard is right in the flight path and it’s always a spectacular show, with planes screaming over just a few hundred feet overhead – you can even read the pilots’ names at times, if you’re quick enough.  Anyway, the point is that my parents invited my best friend and his wife to come along to the party, and we were sitting at the table with them.  We happened to ask them what they were up to for Halloween.  Nothing, they said, so we suggested they come over to our place.

    We always have tons of trick-or-treaters, so even though Halloween is my least-favorite holiday (something to do with scary masks the year I was three, I think), we thought it would be a fun way to spend the evening.  Later in the month, we happened to be hanging out with two other couples and mention the idea of coming over to them too.  Suddenly we had a party on our hands!

    First, decorations.  We’ve only got 2 boxes for Halloween (as opposed to about a dozen big Rubbermaid tubs for our Christmas stuff), but we were able to do a little bit of decorating.

    I love these guys... I bought them about 5 years ago at Big Lots, and haven't seen any scarecrows cuter since!

    Above the television sat my two gorgeous pumpkins, a bunch of our photos (including this one from our first anniversary, courtesy of Melissa McClure Photography!) and these little cuties, picked up for us two years ago by my grandmother.

    I spent a lot of the morning cooking, including spinach artichoke dip.  A couple of years ago I posted a recipe for this, but I tried to make this a little more standard:

    Elisa’s Spinach Artichoke Dip

    • 1 bag (16 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed
    • 1 bag (12 oz) frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and chopped (they have these at Trader Joe’s)
    • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
    • 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
    • 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp black pepper
    • 1/4 tsp granulated garlic or 1 medium garlic clove, chopped fine
    • additional mozzarella for sprinkling over the top of the dip

    Mix all the ingredients except the additional mozzarella in a bowl.  Smooth into a greased baking dish and cover with additional cheese.  Bake at 375 degrees until cheese is melty and browned.  Notice that I didn’t say what size a dish to use – that’s because you can really use anything it’ll fit into.  It depends on whether you want a lot of brown bubbly cheese on top (use a wide dish) or just a little (use a deep one).  This will feed 4-8 people, depending on whether you use it as an appetizer or a side dish.  Serve it with toasted baguette or tortilla chips.

    Waiting to be uncovered and eaten... Spinach artichoke dip with chips!

    I also made these babies, gorgeous fluffy cupcakes from one of my favorite blogs, Patent and the Pantry

    Pretty and tasty!

    I did make a couple of adjustments to the recipe, specifically the spices.  I used 2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice (mostly because I actually don’t have ground allspice, plus I actually like the mixture), and a pinch of ground cloves.  I’m not a big fan of ginger in pumpkin dishes – I’m not sure why, I just have never really liked it.  Anyway, these were originally a Martha Stewart recipe, and sometimes her stuff is a little too fussy for me but these were quite easy and really delivered on flavor.  With the cream cheese frosting (at the same link), they were perfect.  Honestly.  My sister commented that they tasted like pumpkin cheesecake.  Which gave me an idea…  I haven’t tried it out yet, but I’m pretty excited.  Let’s just say that if my idea ends up being good I’ll post it next week.  Anyway, I digress.

    Our dinner was a pizza bar.  I didn’t get any good photos, unfortunately, but I made a TRIPLE batch of my basic bread dough recipe.  I mixed up the dough Saturday afternoon and let it proof in the fridge overnight in two huge bowls, and then Sunday morning I took it out and let it warm up to room temperature and get all beautiful and puffy.  I divided it into roughly the same size pieces and rolled them into 1 1/2″ balls and pulled them into odd-shaped thin crusts by hand and poked them with a fork so they wouldn’t rise too much in the oven.  I made five or six dozen of them, dusting the bottoms with corn meal and baking them in batches, 5 minutes at a time.

    The beginning of our pizza bar, with plates and sauces. The pizza crusts are in the big basket at the back!

    The rest of the pizza bar was made of various sauces, meats, vegetables, and cheeses, laid out and labeled (you can see the cute little labels I made in the photo below).  On the menu:

    • tomato sauce (bottled – the best one I’ve found is by Barilla)
    • BBQ sauce (our favorite is Sweet Baby Ray’s – it’s very sweet but full of great flavor)
    • Trader Joe’s curry sauce
    • garlic oil
    • homemade pesto (no real recipe for this one – I just blend up some basil leaves, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in my food processor)
    • roasted garlic
    • carmelized onions (cut and mixed with a little butter and salt, and placed in the crock pot on low overnight)
    • roasted eggplant from the garden
    • roasted zucchini
    • roasted sweet peppers
    • garlic mushrooms (sauteed with a little butter)
    • artichoke hearts
    • spinach
    • olives
    • cut basil leaves
    • figs
    • cooked chicken
    • Trader Joe’s sweet Italian chicken sausage
    • Trader Joe’s pepperoni
    • garlic shrimp
    • mozzarella cheese
    • parmesan cheese
    • cheddar cheese

    I know it's a poor photo, and this was before I dished out the meats. But you can see our toppings and the labels I made!

    I had planned on using goat cheese too, my Mexican hot sauce, and fresh tomatoes.  But I didn’t realize the goat cheese had been opened the week before (and it was no good, sadly) and forgot the tomatoes and hot sauce completely.  Even so, one of our guests said there were just too many choices!  I say there are never too many…  Especially during a party like this, it’s totally worth giving people lots of options.  Each person grabbed one (or two, or three!) pizza crust and decorated it with exactly the toppings he or she wanted.  My favorite was roasted vegetable; my husband loved the BBQ sauce with chicken sausage and figs (no one ever said he was conventional!)

    Of course I got to wear my Wonder Woman costume again, this time with a modification to the belt.  It still sort of flopped down, but at least it wasn’t unsticking all the time.  You can also see the “golden lasso” I got at WalMart for $1.75 (that Iaccidentally left at home on Friday).

    I love this costume!

    I also made my hubby’s costume – he was Clark Kent, wearing a blue shirt underneath his button-up that I applied an iron-on Superman logo to.  Since he used mostly clothes he already had, this was an $8 costume, thanks to Old Navy.

    We had an awesome time with our friends, even though L&J couldn’t make it.  We had over 200 kids come to the door, gave out lots of pencils and plastic spider rings (what can I say?  we learned how expensive candy can be at our house on Halloween, plus it’s kind of fun to be different), and watched Halloween cartoons (including my very favorite “Disney’s Trick or Treat”, with Donald and his three nephews and Witch Hazel!  Thank you ABC Family for showing it this year!).  By the end of the night we were totally exhausted, but it was such a fun time that hubby suggested this might be an annual event.  We’ll see…  More than 6 people in our teeny living room would be a bit of a stretch, but maybe by next year we’ll have a new place?

    Anyway, since we had costumes, we suggested our friends dress up too, and we took this on my camera’s timed setting:

    Happy Halloween!

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